Chesapeake | Services: Feeding Therapy
Small Bites Lead to Big Success
When her son, Eric, was 9 years old, it wasn't unusual for Kim Fillius to take double-toasted Eggo® waffles and crispy bacon to Eric’s school at lunchtime. Like many children with high-functioning autism, Eric was extremely sensitive to food brands and textures, only eating certain crunchy foods.
“He never even had a piece of his own birthday cake,” Kim recalled of Eric’s eating struggles.
By August 2013, Eric, who would only eat six foods and hadn't gained weight in three years, dropped to 38 pounds, and his organs began failing. That September he received a feeding tube to provide essential nutrition.
“We knew he wasn't healthy,” said Kim, “but we didn't know what to do. We felt like we had done every therapy and seen every doctor. We didn't know about Children’s Hospital until a friend told me.”
In August 2014, Kim, who lives nearly two hours from Richmond in Chesapeake, Va. with her husband Brad and younger son Jack, began weekly stays in Richmond so Eric could receive day patient services through Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU's (CHoR) Feeding Program, an intensive six to eight-week treatment where patients spend eight hours a day, five days a week, at CHoR's Brook Road Campus. The program’s unique outcome-based treatment model includes a multi-disciplinary team of pediatric specialists including a physician, nurse practitioner, nurses, psychologists, dietitians, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and feeding technicians.
“Kids need someone to know their challenges and create a plan for them,” said Carol Elliott, OTR/L, Children’s Feeding Program, and Eric’s therapist. “Eric came in up for the challenge of learning to eat new foods. He wanted to do his best but just couldn't do it alone.”
Eric began learning to eat preferred foods prepared in a slightly different manner. New food choices were added based on currently-eaten foods, and a calorie-rich drink was introduced to reduce tube feedings. Carol also worked with Eric on chewing skills to preventing gagging and vomiting caused by swallowing food whole. During each step, Carol used social praise, building games and movie-watching to reward Eric for each successful bite.
“Making the right choice of a new food or variation of food, in addition to a structured routine and positive experience is what makes this plan successful,” said Carol. “With all of Eric’s meals, we offered a portion of a highly-preferred food along with new challenging foods. All foods were presented in a rotation, which taught Eric to eat all foods on his plate rather than filling up on favorites and leaving least favorites behind.”
During Eric’s treatment sessions, Kim or Brad watched the therapies from a viewing station in another room. As Eric adjusted to his new food and routine, his parents joined the sessions to learn how to apply the skills at home. Once Eric built a better variety of food, Carol began teaching him to eat within a specified time limit similar to school lunch and practice for restaurant meals and birthday parties.
Eric returned to fourth grade in October and is eating lunch at a table with his friends, something he couldn't previously do. While he’s still not a fan of meat, he likes peanut butter, eats most fruits and some vegetables, and went to a birthday party last fall where he ate some cake.
“It’s given us a sense of peace,” Kim said of Eric’s ability to eat at school.
Eric now eats 68 different foods, weighs 70 pounds, hasn't had a tube feeding since August (he hopes to have the tube removed this spring), and has lots of energy for activities like running, ice hockey, ice skating and Boy Scouts. He travels to CHoR monthly where Carol monitors his weight, helps solve any feeding issues and introduces new foods. Kim said Eric looks forward to seeing the friends he made during his treatment and loves sharing his success with other patients.
“The Feeding Team saved his life,” Kim said. “They showed him how to eat, that it’s okay to try new foods and that it’s okay not to like something."